The strange basketball journey of LaMelo Ball is taking another left turn.
The youngest son of LaVar Ball said Monday on ESPN’s “The Jump” that he’ll be heading Down Under to play in Australia’s National Basketball League.
“Next year I’m going to take my talents to the NBL and play for the Illawarra Hawks,” Ball told host Rachel Nichols.
The Hawks, based in the coastal city of Wollongong, announced the signing Monday afternoon.
IT’S OFFICIAL! ?
— Illawarra Hawks (@illawarrahawks) June 17, 2019
Ball is expected to earn a six-figure salary for one year, USA Today reported.
The 17-year-old said a season in Australia could help him as he prepares for an NBA career.
“I just think that it’s the best route for me,” Ball said. “I’m trying to be the No. 1 pick in the 2020 (NBA) draft.”
“I’m trying to be the No. 1 pick for the 2020 draft.”
— ESPN (@espn) June 17, 2019
“I heard they’ve got great strength and conditioning over there, so off the court, that would be good,” he told Nichols. “And then on the court, you know, pros go through there, stuff like that, so I think it’s all going to help. It’s just best for me, I think.”
If the NBL sounds familiar, it’s because Ball is following in the footsteps of another elite high school prospect, R.J. Hampton, who announced last month that he is forgoing college to play for one year in Australia.
Hampton, ranked by 247 Sports as the No. 5 prospect in the high school Class of 2019, will be playing for the New Zealand Breakers this season. He too plans to declare for the 2020 NBA draft.
It’s been a strange journey for Ball since his father took him out of Chino Hills High School in California at the beginning of his junior year. LaVar Ball also pulled his middle son, LiAngelo, out of UCLA after LiAngelo was caught shoplifting on a team trip to China in November 2017.
In December 2017, LaMelo, who was just 16 at the time, signed with an agent, essentially forgoing any possibility of playing college ball.
He went on to play professionally alongside LiAngelo in Lithuania in 2018, but that did not end well either.
Dear old dad once again intervened. LaVar pulled both LaMelo and LiAngelo out of the league in May 2018 before the season ended. He was upset with LaMelo’s lack of playing time.
That summer, both of the younger Ball brothers played in LaVar’s fledgling Junior Basketball Association, his alternative for high school players who didn’t want to go to play in college. But that didn’t go well either as the teams played before sparse crowds. With Ball’s Big Baller Brand in danger of going belly up, the future of the JBA is in doubt.
In the fall of 2018, LaMelo decided to return to high school for his senior year, enrolling in the SPIRE Institute, a private prep school in Geneva, Ohio. It proved to be a good move as he led SPIRE to a 31-2 record, averaging 21.8 points, 8.8 rebounds and 8.9 assists per game.
Whether his next step will lead him to the NBA remains to be seen, but it appears to be a better option than another season in the JBA.
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